Cough and Cold Medicines Marketed for Children Despite Evidence of Risks

Contact: Kathy Melley, 617.275.2861


Boston, Massachusetts - 10/18/2007 - The Prescription Project today released a report showing that companies producing over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines spent more than $50 million marketing these widely used products for children under the age of 6 despite evidence of risks and lack of effectiveness in treating children. The report, titled Risk With No Benefit: The Marketing of Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medications for Children, was released to coincide with today’s Federal Drug Administration’s Nonprescription Drug Advisory Committee hearing on the potential dangers of these products for children under the age of 6.

The Prescription Project report, which analyzed FDA, industry, and epidemiological documents on OTC remedies, shows a lack of efficacy data but a significant number of reported injuries and deaths associated with overdosing of these products. Manufacturers have heavily marketed this class of OTC preparations for many years based on their FDA classification as “safe and effective,” yet the FDA has not conducted or brought forward a single study or review to prove the safety or effectiveness of these products for use in small children in the last three decades.  The full report is available at www.prescriptionproject.org.

“Especially when it comes to over-the-counter drugs, physicians and patients rely on the FDA to ‘calculate’ the benefits versus risks and communicate this to the public,” said John Santa, MD, MPH, a consultant to the Prescription Project and former medical director of the Drug Effectiveness Review Project (DERP). “In this case, it appears the benefits are close to zero while the risks are significant."

Last week, in response to growing questions and pressure from pediatricians and the FDA, major manufacturers of the popular cold remedies announced that they were voluntarily withdrawing from the shelves OTC infant cold and cough products marketed for children age 2 and under.  As of yet, there has been no action on drugs marketed for children 2-6 years old.

About The Prescription Project

The Prescription Project is led by Community Catalyst in partnership with the Institute on Medicine as a Profession. Created with The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Project promotes evidence-based prescribing and seeks to eliminate conflicts of interest in medicine caused by pharmaceutical marketing to physicians by working with academic medical centers, professional medical societies, public and private payers, and state and federal policymakers. For more information, please visit www.prescriptionproject.org.

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